There’s a black leather journal sitting beside my laptop. It’s open but then it’s never really closed thanks to the note cards, maps, currency and scraps of paper that are stuffed in between the lined pages. The page on the left is dated, “Monday, March 17, 2008,” and underneath that, “location(s): B–, Indonesia; Singapore; Istanbul, Turkey and enroute by plane to Baku, Azerbaijan.” The first day of a three week trip that was both planned and unexpected, logical and a little crazy. At least it felt that way. My journal entries from March 17, 2008, reflect the battle between my faithless feelings of uncertainty and my certainty that the Lord was directing my steps.
First entry: Just boarded the ferry to Singapore. Alone. Being the only non-Asian on board only heightens my sense of loneliness. As I embark I find myself praying that my heart can sing with William Cowper, “His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.”
Second entry: My taxi driver commented on my being an American. He said he knew as soon as I began walking towards the car. Apparently, we bounce when we walk. And smile at everything and nothing in particular. There are worse things to be known for I suppose. Oh, Father, put your hand on me so that others see you in my presence. Or rather, may they recognize that I am in your presence. Don’t let my wandering feet be accompanied by a wandering heart. Ps. 16:11.
Third entry: “My times are in Your hands…” ~Psalm 31:15a. This verse is echoing in my thoughts as I sit here, staring out the window in Istanbul. In HIS hands… Tired. Lonely. Safe. Sure. Hopeful. Yes, my times really are in Your hands.
I was prepared for those weeks in Azerbaijan to be some of the lowest of my life. I wondered if I had been sent there alone as a form of punishment. But somewhere between the the departure of an airplane and the landing something shifted in my thinking. It’s a long story but the takeaway is this: grace is outrageous. I discovered a whole new depth to the Gospel that I’d been proclaiming while cramped in a middle seat on a Turkish Airlines flight. Miles above the terrain of Central Asia, I realized that the cross is offensive in that it offers much to those who deserve nothing.
It made those three weeks in Azerbaijan some of the most wonderful that I have experienced. They were the happiest days that I have known. Truly. I love the line from that first entry, taken from Cowper’s “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”, “the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.” I didn’t deserve the deep, sweet grace that He offered. It didn’t matter. He gave it anyway. And yes, I think that it’s a little crazy. Almost as crazy as Jesus on a cross… now that’s crazy.